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Spring has sprung, and with it comes the all-too-familiar struggle associated with allergies. For many people, the irritants that spring brings with it can transform what would otherwise be pleasant activities into physical hardships. The weather is often ideal, drawing people outside for a variety of reasons, only for them to be stopped in their tracks by a wide array of challenging symptoms.
Without the proper understanding and the right strategy in place, the allergens of spring can ruin the season. However, understanding why allergies impact us, how we can spot symptoms when they do, and what we can do to combat them is a surefire way to take back springtime.
Why We Have Allergies
The medical community has never come to a unanimous verdict in terms of what triggers allergies. We do know that when they happen, it is because the immune system believes that a typically harmless substance is actually harmful.
Thus, the immune system will react by releasing histamine — a compound made by cells in the case of injury, allergies, and inflammation — and other similar chemicals. That is why allergies are typically treated with antihistamines, which will reduce or completely block histamine production in the body.
An individual’s unique immune system is what determines which allergens a person’s body responds to, and that’s why only some among us are impacted by the changes brought on by springtime.
What Allergens Are Specific to Spring
To properly be able to combat allergies, an individual has to understand what the most common offenders are. In the springtime, there is a specific set of allergens that are most likely to have a negative effect on a person’s immune system, and they prosper in the spring because of the combination of precipitation and warmth.
For plants, springtime is a time of rebirth. Trees, specifically, which have often been dormant throughout the coldest months of the year, begin to bloom again in the warmth of spring. Trees put off pollen, and pollen is light and dry, which means it’s prime for being carried along in the breezes that are common during the season.
Some common trees that can trigger hay fever-like symptoms include:
- Western red cedar
Mold is primarily a threat during the spring because of the same components that foster pollen production, as well as the springtime breezes and winds that grant agency to mold spores in greater amounts than during other parts of the year.
Outside mold spores are plentiful and often cause the most severe reactions in individuals from spring on through the fall.
If you’re allergic to animals, you’re allergic to them all year long, given the fact that, unlike trees, their hair or fur doesn’t disappear during certain seasons of the year. However, in the spring they begin to shed. And in the spring, everything they shed is carried around by spring’s trademark breezes.
Additionally, most dog owners spend a lot more time outside with their pets as the weather warms. So even if you don’t own a dog or cat, you’re likely being impacted by those around you who do. Thus, if it seems your animal dander allergy gets worse in the springtime, it probably does.
How to Tell It’s Allergies
One of the crucial components to being able to combat allergies is knowing that you have them. Some allergy symptoms can easily be confused with those of a common cold or a sinus infection. The first step in understanding how to respond to them so that you can get better as quickly as possible revolves around knowing what to spot.
One of the most common allergy-induced reactions is hay fever. Hay fever can produce a wide array of issues related to the ear, nose, and throat including:
Nasal congestion: A stuffy nose is caused by inflamed blood vessels.
Watery, itchy eyes: Beyond being red, itchy, and irritated, professionals note that eyes impacted by allergies can also be swollen, sensitive to light, and painful. Why? Because in a similar fashion to your nose, the blood vessels in your eyes will swell causing both the redness and the discomfort that goes along with it.
Sneezing: Sneezing is a hallmark symptom of springtime allergies. Often, the pollen or spores settle in your nose and irritates it. The chemical histamine, released in your brain, then alerts your nose that sneezing is required to expel the irritant.
Sore throat: Allergies often cause a runny nose, and when that happens the resulting post nasal drip will cause coughing and painful irritation.
The complication in self-diagnosing allergies arises because all of the aforementioned symptoms can also be symptoms of illnesses. To ensure that you take the proper steps to protect yourself, make sure you can tell the difference between allergies and a cold.
Where is the discomfort? As we’ve noted, allergies virtually always cause the most irritation in the nose, throat, and eyes. Conversely, a cold is going to cause aches throughout the entire body. Not only that, but itchiness in those areas is a tell-tale sign that allergies are to blame and not a cold.
Is a fever present? While allergies may make you more susceptible to the bacteria or viruses that cause fevers, they in and of themselves will not a cause a fever. Thus if you don’t have one, allergies are likely to blame.
How long do symptoms last? Symptoms of colds will appear rapidly, and they will also diminish fairly quickly. Seasonal allergies will, unfortunately, present symptoms all season long.
While the symptoms of allergies share many commonalities with those of a cold, the reality is that with some simple understanding of the differences, it becomes relatively easy to recognize when it is allergies and not a passing cold. And when you can do that, you can take the most efficient steps to cope with those symptoms.
How to Combat Allergies
Allergies have the potential to make an individual very miserable. While the impact they can have cannot be completely avoided, there are some things that can be done in an effort to manage the symptoms and actually enjoy the spring while it lasts.
The Staples of Allergy Relief
There are some tried and true methods for combating allergies that have earned their position as staples of allergy relief because they work, and they work well.
Head to the drugstore. When you’ve been able to deduce that you are indeed struggling with the symptoms of seasonal allergies, head to your local drugstore and pick up some allergy medications. There will likely be some amount of hits and misses as you attempt to decipher which medications work best for you. Decongestants are best for stuffy noses, while antihistamines target itchiness and runny noses.
Try salt water. For some, going straight to meds is overkill. For others, the side effects of some allergy medications are reason enough to avoid them. A saline nasal rinse helps to clear allergens from nasal membranes, which in turn will decrease the severity of symptoms.
Remove your outside clothing when you’re inside. Just as pollen can settle inside your nasal passages, it can also settle on your clothing. If you are active outside and then come inside and don’t change your clothing, you’re going to leave pollen and spore residue throughout your home. That will ultimately increase your exposure as it increases the locations you can potentially pick up the offending organisms. You should also shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to ensure that you’ve removed the allergens from your person.
Stay inside, if possible, when pollen levels are high. This is pretty straightforward: stay informed about when pollen levels are highest throughout the day, and if you have any control over it, stay inside. Additionally, if it’s extra windy do what you can to stay indoors. Creatively improvise so that you can do activities like working out inside.
Watch your windows and doors. It can be tempting leave doors and windows open during best of spring’s weather. However, doing so increases exposure to allergens. Thus, to cool off run the air conditioning and keep the doors and windows securely closed. Additionally, prior to allergy season do a quick check to ensure they’re closing properly and not letting pollen and spores inside your home or workplace unbeknownst to you.
Wear a mask and glasses when outside. If you must be outside for long periods of time, take an extra step to prevent access to your eyes, nose, and throat. Invest in both sunglasses and masks, which will allow you to go outside without the same level of exposure.
The aforementioned preventative measures are some of the best things that you can do for yourself if you often fall victim to seasonal allergies. With a relatively small amount of effort and time, they can drastically change your springtime experience.
Creative Methods of Coping With Allergies
While the tactics listed above have been proven over and over to work well for a variety of people in a wide array of locals and situations, there are also some surprising things you can do to better prevent your springtime from being ruined by allergy-induced discomfort.
Try essential oils. Essential oils can do a lot of things, even aid in allergy relief. As we’ve pointed out before, “Research has shown that tea tree oil in particular is useful for allergies. A study in Germany in 2000 showed that the oil has antimicrobial properties that can work against bacteria, yeasts, and different kinds of fungi.”
Consider your houseplants. When most people hear pollen, they immediately think only of the vegetation that lives outside their homes. However, even indoor plants can produce pollen associated with allergies. If you have flowering plants inside, it may be wise to see if your symptoms decrease after moving the plant outside. Additionally, mold spores can grow in the soil of potted plants.
Kill dust mites. While not specific to the spring, dust mites can cause allergic reactions. If you’re dealing with the symptoms but struggling to identity the cause, consider throwing your bed linens in the washing machine with hot water and drying them on high heat to kill whatever dust mites may be lurking.
Clean trouble areas. You may have already known that you need to secure windows and doors in the interest of keeping allergens outside, but have you also cleaned the drapes that cover those windows? Drapes, along with blinds, are prime spots for mold to grow and flourish. Even old books and refrigerator drain pans can be to blame. If there is a spot in your home that can hold any amount of liquid, that spot can also be housing troublesome mold.
Travel smart. If you struggle with springtime allergies and you’re contemplating a spring break trip, do not travel to a location with pollen levels that will ruin your journey before it truly begins. We know that disconnecting is one of the best things we can do for our health, and when it comes to planning vacations for the seasonal allergy suffering, it’s important to consider how your body will fair in the region you’re traveling to so that it actually feels like a relaxing experience.
Adjust the humidity. Moisture is mold’s best friend. Do what you can to make your home as inhospitable to mold as possible. Use your air conditioner or dehumidifier to keep your home or workspace from becoming muggy. It may be worthwhile to invest in a hygrometer, which will tell you the exact level of humidity in the air. Keeping it around 50 percent is ideal. In addition, spills and leaks should be dealt with promptly, and filters in your air conditioner and heating ducts should be changed according to manufacturer guidelines.
Summing it all up
The misery brought on by springtime allergies can feel oppressive. While they aren’t technically an illness, they can cause a person to feel that they are under the weather. Not only that, their causes are difficult to avoid and last for months at a time.
Despite that, though, the allergy sufferer does have the potential to enjoy the springtime just as much as the next person. With a reasonable amount of thought and care for oneself, allergy symptoms can be drastically reduced.
So much so that instead of itchy eyes and a stuffy nose, an individual will associate the spring with the things it should be associated with: beautiful weather and flourishing growth.